Why entrepreneurship is not like a “9- 5 Job” . . . with Michael Katz and Seth Godin

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a Saskatchewan-based entrepreneur who writes for a living, must be in want of good clients.” (My apologies to Jane Austen, who would, I might add, understand the theme of today’s blog posting.)

By “good clients,” I mean clients who understand that entrepreneur’s value and so do not “nickel and dime” them over fees. Clients who are willing to pay freelancers’ project fees and not to insist on a (low) hourly rate.

Often in Saskatchewan and other Prairie locales, prospects simply don’t “get” this. They think that because Uncle Bob will “do this for free,” that freelancers should work for cheap—hourly rates of cheap, in fact.

North American enewsletter expert Michael Katz addressed this perennial disconnect in a recent blog posting. A veteran in his field with 25 years of experience as a solopreneur, an innovative thinker with two degrees, who is based in economically vibrant Massachusetts, Katz still finds prospects who want to know his hourly rate as a copywriter.

Katz responded to one such prospect recently, saying, “I don’t have an hourly rate for anything; I price by the project.”

The prospect commented that “hourly pricing seems fair.”

Katz thought: “What’s fair got to do with it?”

The prospect said “he wanted to understand the effort involved.”

Katz thought: “Does it matter to you how many hours Bruce Springsteen practices before you pay for a concert ticket? . . . . Does it matter to you how many miles the apple you’re eating travelled before you took a bite?”

Katz observes that “People who get paid for how hard and how long they work are called employees.”

By contrast, he asserts: “People who get paid for the value they provide are called entrepreneurs, owners and artists.”

Entrepreneurs, who invest years of (ongoing) training, education, acquire and maintain professional association memberships, receive mentoring, network strategically, keep our own books, and so on, are not employees.

But the disconnect persists. And in economically challenged regions and times, those who refuse to recognize the difference between employees and entrepreneurs don’t hesitate to get louder and more insistent.

In my work as an entrepreneur and with stars like Michael Katz, we are not merely employees, because we are more committed to what we do than a 9-5 worker has scope to be. We bring more expertise, emotional energy, thoughtfulness, risk-taking and many longer hours, committing deeply and leaving nothing in reserve. These qualities, by the way, are what marketing guru Seth Godin uses to define the “linchpin”—the worker who resembles an entrepreneur in his/her commitment to their work.

Godin, whose 2011 book, Linchpin: Are You Indispensable, was an groundbreaking bestseller (and the subject of several postings in this very blog), recently suggested that linchpins and entrepreneurs would be better understood if prospects, clients or customers could see us at work: “When we see passionate people at work (at a chess tournament, a brainstorming session, writing a play or counselling), we have trouble imagining doing it for six hours in a row, never mind eight.” . . . Or 10 or 12, as in the entrepreneur’s case.

Maybe what local entrepreneurs need to do is to upload online, time-lapse videos of us doing just that work . . . Except that resistant, low-paying prospects couldn’t bear or bother to watch them.

Entrepreneurs like me use our project fees to pay our staff (who are the employees); the excellent sub-contractor whose specialist knowledge of SEO, for instance, raised consumer response to the latest project; the professional membership whose connections allowed for our deeper understanding of the industry that shaped our work. We entrepreneurs work late into the night (and early in the morning) to maintain such things as proper books, even to advocate for fairer government policy . . .

But yes, as the nay-saying prospect counters, entrepreneurship is still a choice.

A choice that Godin describes as that “to go all in, to make a ruckus,” to change the game for the clients for whom we work. And to do so, daily.

While it’s a blessing to have that choice, often the alternative (for a writer like me, the race to the bottom of low-paying, repetitive tasks, as a “cog in the wheel,” 9-5 employee) is no alternative at all.

So the next time you hear a prospect complaining about an entrepreneur’s “high” fees, or feel tempted to raise an eyebrow when you’re quoted such a fee yourself, consider that what’s at stake is not how you measure “how hard or long” entrepreneurs work; or your assumptions of what constitutes “fair” pay.

Entrepreneurship is not like a 9-5 job. It’s a way of life.

And now it’s your turn: Do you recognize that entrepreneurship is not like a 9-5 job? Would you consider paying a sustainable fee to an entrepreneur in your community, who is passionate about what s/he does?

Please write in on my “contact” page; I’d be delighted to extend this conversation.